To infinity and beyond

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A Brief History of Time ****

Tramway, Glasgow

STEPHEN Hawking’s Brief History of Time is famous as a book more bought and talked about than actually read, so it’s helpful as well as ambitious of Glasgow-based company Vanishing Point to offer this 90-minute journey through the landscape of Hawking’s influential work, and into some of its most beautiful and thoughtful moments. Billed as an "installation performance", A Brief History is a show in six parts, each staged in a different space around the Tramway building; and every 45 minutes, an audience of eight people departs from the foyer, to be led through the "Hawking experience" by a cast of four actors and half-a-dozen helpers.

The journey begins with a lecturer in a glass case trying, without much lucidity or success, to acquaint us with some of the basics of modern physics. Then a monk leads us over grass to a dark space where four large screens flash up fragments from a history of ideas about the nature of the universe, rather like a cut-price version of a visit to Our Dynamic Earth. The White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland intervenes, trying to read Hawking’s book, quoting Lewis Carroll’s conversations about time going backwards, and finally demanding a stiff drink - which, given the feebleness of his comic performance, seems like a good idea.

At this point, though, things improve. There’s a sinister card game around a red baize table, from which we peel off one by one; then a long ten minutes sitting alone in a huge, pitch-dark hall, while a series of thoughts and ideas from Hawking’s book gradually lead us to a deepening appreciation of the sheer miracle of human consciousness. Then finally, we are brought into a church; and, with our eyes unbound at last, left to contemplate a magical final sequence which emphasises once again how close modern physics has come to a mystical and religious understanding of the universe, and of our place in it. What Vanishing Point have created in this show, in other words, is a spiritual journey of the most ancient kind, a little pilgrimage from light to dark and back again that alters our consciousness, and leaves us with an enhanced sense of the wonder and beauty of life. And that is the kind of experience on which it’s difficult to place a price; or, for that matter, a star-rating, anywhere from zero to infinity.

Until 23 November.

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